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Why Your Teen Still Needs You to Be a Parent

Lori Freson

Development & Learning

It’s hard enough being a teen these days, without any added problems or pressures.  But when teens’ parents are never around, things can get really tough.  While many teens might think that having total freedom and no parents to boss them around and nag them would be a dream come true, the reality is that it’s not the wonderful life that it sounds like it would be.

As parents, you don’t have to give in to what your teen wants.  Your teen might want total independence, but they need you to be a parent. It is hard, lonely and anxiety provoking for a teen to be basically on their own before they are developmentally ready for that enormous responsibility.

Think about all of the things that a parent typically does or helps their teenager do: make sure they’re awake for school and get them there on time, pack a lunch or give them money for lunch, ask about homework and tests, prepare dinner and clean up, keep things clean and tidy, get them to extra-curricular activities, help utilize available resources as needed, communicate with the school about important things, schedule doctor’s appointments and do so much more.

It’s true that as a teenager, your teen should be taking on more of more of these responsibilities for themselves, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to be thrown full force ahead into an adult life all at once.  As much as teenagers might not to want to admit it, they still need their parents.  They need them for love and support, structure, guidance and boundaries.  Without all of these things, it is difficult to navigate the transition from teen to adult.

Why are these things all so important?  Let’s take a look.

  • Guidance – this is all of the gentle pushing and prodding and lecturing that parents do. It’s reminding your teen not to use drugs and to have safe sex.  It’s leading by example and telling them to stay in school and even go to college.  It’s helping guide your child in the right direction for a successful future.
  • Love – let’s face it. Everyone needs and deserves to be loved.  A parent’s love is unconditional, so you should always be there for your teen, even when they make a mistake or bad decision.  There is a lot of comfort in knowing that they are loved, and it is so important for their self-esteem.
  • Support – this means that when your teen fails, you still encourage him to get back up and try again. When he is stressed or having a tough time, you try to help him out.
  • Structure – this means that parents don’t just let their teens lay around all the time doing nothing. You build some structure into their lives.  You make sure they have things to do and a time to do them, hopefully including chores, homework, family time and friends.
  • Boundaries – these are so important in life, and your kids must learn these at home. This could be anything from curfew, speaking respectfully, and basically not just letting them do whatever they want whenever they want to. Without boundaries, people have trouble in the real world, and end up acting like entitled jerks.

All of these are crucial to your teen’s transition from a teenager into a secure, stable and successful adult.  Unfortunately for many of you, there are many circumstances that make it so you can’t be around as much as you’d like to be. If this it the case, there are some things you can do to make sure your teens aren’t dealing with more than they are ready for all on their own.

  • Check in with your child frequently throughout the day. Make sure they know they have to be accountable.  Teens who know their parents hold them accountable tend to make better decisions.
  • Help your teen find a mentor. This could be a “big brother” or “big sister,” a coach, a friend’s parent, a teacher, or even a neighbor.  Make sure it is someone you respect and look up to, and let them know your situation.  Most caring adults are happy to step in and help.
  • Make sure your teen has plenty of structure in her day. Don’t allow her to just sleep all day and lay around.  Expect her to get up and go to school, get involved in something productive outside of school, like sports or a youth group.  Have her find a part-time job and just encourage her to keep herself busy with positive things.
  • Remind your teen that he knows right from wrong and that he will have to decide what kind of person he wants to be. Discuss with him that he can be a problem teen who ruins his own future by making bad decisions, or he can be an upstanding person who has a bright future.
  • Make it clear that school must be a priority. Education is knowledge, and knowledge is power.  Remind your teen that she can be anything she wants to be if she works hard enough.
  • Build a supportive network of people that your family loves and trusts, and that your teen feels close to. These can be other family members, friends, people on a team, etc.  They will be there to catch your teen when she needs someone.
  • Tell you child how much you love him. Help him believe in himself.  Make sure he knows he is worthy and lovable and unique and talented.  Encourage him to follow his dreams and not let anything stand in the way.
  • There is a silver lining. Even though things might be tough on you and your teen right now, he’s getting a head start on responsibility and adulthood.  This can give your teen an advantage in the years to come.


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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.